Don’t pay. If the show requires a fee, skip that one. There are plenty of free bridal shows out there, at least there are here in Massachusetts. This is because it's the wedding vendors who pay the venue for the opportunity to adversize to you, the consumer. You wouldn't pay to watch nothing but commercials for 3 hours, so why would you pay to attend a bridal trade show?
Read the invite carefully. Sure you want to get down to the business of meeting vendors and seeing what they have to offer to help you with the wedding planning process. But sampling the wedding cakes and catering is one of the perks of attending bridal fairs! If they are going to have food at the bridal show, they are going to mention food. If they don’t, either eat before you go or skip that show too.
Set up a new Email address that you will dedicate to wedding planning only. When you register and you give them your Email, all the vendors will put you on their weekly mailing lists. This adds up real fast. You can’t help the phone calls and junk snail mail, but you can keep the clutter out of your regular Email. Don’t worry too much about the amount of calls you’ll get because they don’t call as frequently as they Email. (If you’re concerned about calls and junk mail, see tips below for more advice on how to limit them).
Start a simple filing system. To do so: if you look at a photographer’s album and see heads cut off and blurry photos, don’t take their card. If you get a pamphlet and think “eh, maybe. Too bad there’s no price list though,” keep it in the bag they give you at the bridal show. But if you try a caterer and think “wow, this is REALLY good, and the prices are reasonable,” fold the corner, and when you get home stick it in a 2 pocket folder. Keep one side for favorite potential vendors. Keep the other side for invoices once you’ve made deposits or payments. You can set up the same sort of system in your Email. Just title folders with “maybe,” “favorites,” and “confirmed.”
Embrace the raffles, but don’t be fooled either. At some of these bridal shows EVERY vendor has their own raffle going on. So your chances of winning something are not bad at all. But here’s the rub. A lot of the prizes are not prizes. They’re sales, and some of them are not very good sales at all (like 10% off of a package that’s overpriced). But some raffles are simply for a free bottle of champagne or even cash. And occasionally you will win a prize that is a good sale/promotion and they will contact you through phone or Email. But in this case shop around a little first, check online reviews of this company, and then go in if you find it actually is a good deal on something you need.
Bring someone along. Have someone there to chat with about other stuff so you don’t take it too seriously. The bridal show is not the time to choose a vendor. Not usually. You need to go into these with the attitude that it’s just a fun night out where you get to eat and look at pretty stuff. If you DO find a vendor you like, that’s a nice bonus, and refer to step 4 for staying organized with the serious business of selection. But give yourself a distraction so you don’t leave at the end of the night feeling like you failed because you don’t know which vendor to pick. It’s like dating. Go have fun, but if you don’t expect to meet Mr. Right every time you go. You'll find what's perfect for you when you least expect it.
To further limit the spam, you can always let vendors know you don’t want to be contacted by them once you start getting their Emails and phone calls. After all, they know that use of their service is a one time thing for a bride. You’re not going to be buying a second wedding dress so it would be a waste of their time and resources for them to keep hounding you after you've found your gown. Just let the vendor know you’ve chosen someone else and ask that they take you off their contact list.
My own wedding planning process:
Amber's Planning a Wedding in Massachusetts